Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Earmarks Actually Work

Tom Roeser has more admiration for Mitch McConnell than I do, but that doesn't prevent him from demonstrating how earmarks actually work.

And Roeser ought to know: he spent a long time as a lobbyist.

I’m a congressman from Illinois and I very much want to get a defense installation earmarked for my district.

So I go to the chairman of Defense appropriations and say this: Mr. Chairman, what can I do to convince Appropriations to earmark this thing for my district?

He’d say: Well, that’s a pretty tough sell. Freddie from Cedar Rapids [a congressman in the Chairman’s delegation] wants it and of course he has been a good friend. Very good friend.”

I’d say: “That’s too bad. That thing could spell the difference next time up [meaning the next election] between my coming back or not.”

He’d respond: “Sorry if that’s so. On the other hand, Fred has done pretty well by us [meaning being supportive on the House floor for extension of subsidies the subcommittee chairman needs for farmers in his district].

We’re thinking of building a $2.1 billion addition to the Air Force training station in Iowa which will house 1,300 recruits which will mean quite a good deal to Cedar and the locality around there—you know, in terms of support services. The Pentagon wanted to scrub the addition and instead build something in Mississippi but hell I told `em they’re better off building on to the facility in Iowa. It should stay in the midwest’s been my thinking. Maybe…who knows….in Illinois. Let me see what I can do.”

Me: “If anything could be done, I’d be more than grateful.”

He: More than grateful! How long you been here? I got scads of guys who are more than grateful for stuff..”

Me: “I realize that, Mr. Chairman. Let me be more helpful if I can."

He: “Well, sure. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no quid pro quo in this stuff. But I sure would appreciate…you’re on the Education committee, aren’t you?”

Me: “Sure am.”

He: “I’ve been tryin’ to get your Department [of Education] to work out a cooperative program involving audio visual with a series of community colleges in my district. A pretty dinky thing--$50 million or so total. Well, a little bird in the Department tells me it’s been scrubbed by OMB. Now I don’t want to go to them and beg—wouldn’t be ethical or proper, you know. But—

Me: “…but if the suggestion comes from me--.”

He: “It’s got to be more than a suggestion, Tom, you know. Somebody over at Education should go back to OMB and make the case. It’s not for me to say anything.“

Me: “I know. Let me see what I can do.”

He: “Fine. And let me see what I can do. No quid-pro-quo stuff you understand.”

Me: “Of course not. I’m supposed to meet with the Secretary tomorrow anyhow and you can bet I’ll come down enthusiastic about audio visual in community colleges.”

That’s a rough sketch of how earmarks grow government. Backscratching and good-old-boy [girl] dickering amounts to multi-billions.

Just give it up, Mitch, before you embarrass yourself any more.

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